THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
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Another application of the followership principle lies in rework-
ing the selection, training and development of new Foreign Service
officers, something I think will resonate withmillennials. We
should identify and nurture the qualities that will be needed for
the messy world they will enter, such as independence, creativity,
flexibility, the ability to work unsupervised and, above all, courage.
Why not give stronger weight to these qualities in the Foreign Ser-
vice promotion precepts, and evaluate performance accordingly?
Finally, as I’ve already noted, a key indicator of exemplary
followership is the practice of constructive dissent. This has an
illustrious tradition in the Foreign Service, and AFSA rightfully
recognizes it. Yet while the State Department Foreign Service pro-
motion precepts do include a section on constructive dissent, that
is absent from the USAID precepts.
Not surprisingly, fewUSAID FSOs write dissenting cables or
memos, and few have received AFSA’s own awards for construc-
tive dissent. USAID’s own Direct Channel—which, like the State
Dissent Channel, is intended to allow FSOs to bring concerns and
critical information to the attention of senior agency leadership—
has gone largely unused. That is particularly discouraging for an
organization that supports democracy and prides itself on an open
and democratic internal culture. Perhaps constructive dissent is
not part of the USAID organizational culture, or perhaps USAID
FSOs do not feel the need to formally dissent. But I suspect it is also
because USAID FSOs are feeling especially vulnerable because
they serve in a non-Cabinet agency that faces heavy oversight. As
USAID focuses more on fragile states where poverty and instability
is most difficult to overcome, we will need to see more constructive
dissenters and sharers of honest information.
Ultimately, the idea of followership is about turning the bureau-
cracy on its head and shaking it a bit before putting it back on its
feet. We hear a lot about “innovation.” Innovation is a wonderful
idea, but it needs to transform from a buzzword to natural habits
and practices. To truly innovate requires an organizational culture
where leadership is enhanced by followership. If we follow, we
shall also lead.